Weyburn's Liam Drake, 37, will undergo a life-changing surgery this Thursday.
Diagnosed as a child with pectus excavatum, a condition of excess cartilage in the breastbone, which causes the sternum to concave. The condition is three times more common in boys, and occurs in various degrees of severity in one in 150 to 1,000 births.
Drake said the severity of the condition worsens as one gets older. In moderate cases, symptoms include shortness of breath and fatigue, and a decrease of physical endurance.
"In severe cases, which I have, it compromises the heart and lungs, causes chest pain, and decreases my lung capacity significantly," he noted. "I have about one-third of the lung capacity as I should."
"It definitely restricted what I could do when I was young," he shared. "In hockey and stuff, I was the goalie most of the time. When it came to contact sports, I got taken out because any good hit to the chest or something could offset the heart and cause problems."
"It's going to be a life-changing experience for sure, breath-wise and everything. For a lot of people, there's a stigma, and I could see how it would affect them, you know, mentally, having everyone look, but it never did really bother me growing up. I always had my shirts off at the pool and stuff I didn't really care what people thought."
Nonetheless, "looks-wise, it'll be a big change. Everything. It's gonna be a drastic life experience for sure."
Drake said he has felt every single one of his heartbeats his whole life.
"Every heartbeat in my life, I've felt. Like, my heart is right up against my chest," he explained. "I can only breathe in until my lungs stop, basically, and that's not near as much as it should be. So small, little breaths my whole life and it'll be a big change, that's for sure."
He said his Haller index, a measurement of the ratio of the thoracic width to the thoracic height within the thoracic cage, is way lower than what it should be for his age.
When he was younger, Drake said he chose not to opt for the Ravitch procedure, which is more invasive than the NUSS procedure he'll be undergoing on Thursday.
"They'd have to sort of basically break all your ribs and put metal in behind them to push your sternum out," he described. "But I'm going through the NUSS procedure. They'll insert bars into my sternum. It's considered a minimally-invasive surgery. It makes the bars act like a brace and allows the sternum to reform and correct, without having to break or cut any of my ribs like the Ravitch procedure. So that's why I've kind of leaned towards that procedure."
Drake will be in the hospital for one week to 10 days after the surgery and then recovery will be 6 to 8 weeks.
"That's without any complications like infection or anything. I'll have them in for three years, roughly, maybe more, but depending on the situation and how everything goes," he explained. "Then you go in for a day surgery basically to get them taken out."
With a fiance and three daughters, one of whom is a baby, and a job as a tractor operator at Minard's Leisure World, Drake said he's already looking forward to getting back to normal day activities, but with a greater lung capacity.
"I have family helping out for sure. I've known about the surgery, and it's kind of been in the works for roughly four years now. It's kind of been held off with the whole COVID and everything," he noted. "In the beginning, I had to go through lots of stress tests, get strapped up to sensors, and run on a treadmill. I had to make sure this was actually affecting me and not just cosmetic or else it would be expensive, like out of my pocket, it wouldn't really be covered."
Drake's surgery on Thursday will be about three to four hours in all, and will include having to deflate a lung, yet it is considered minimally invasive.
"They actually have to deflate one of my lungs so my heart moves enough that they can get this bar in," he shared. "It doesn't really sound too minimally invasive, but that's what it's considered, so we'll go with that."
"They just classify it as minimally invasive because of the fact that for each bar, I'll need three incisions, one on each side of my chest and then one smaller incision for the camera so they can see what's happening the whole time. So severe cases [like mine], I'll need two bars, but a lot of the time people just need one bar."
He recommends anyone who may be interested in learning more, to do a Google search for the NUSS procedure.